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Arlington Hires Lobbying Firm for Navy Annex Land Swap

by ARLnow.com | July 25, 2014 at 5:05 pm | 3,040 views | No Comments

Illustration of future land exchange between Arlington County and the U.S. Army

Arlington County has hired a lobbying firm to help facilitate a planned land swap between the county, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Department of Defense.

As outlined in a memorandum of understanding last year, the county is planning to hand over the right-of-way for Southgate Road, near the Air Force Memorial, to the DoD, which plans to use the land — along with the former Navy Annex grounds and part of the state’s current Columbia Pike right-of-way — for an expansion of Arlington National Cemetery’s burial grounds.

As revealed in a recent public disclosure, the county has hired Alexandria-based lobbying firm Congressional Strategies LLC to help move the transaction along. The land swap has already passed the House of Representatives and is now included in the under-consideration U.S. Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, according to Brian Stout, the county’s federal liaison.

The county’s contract with Congressional Strategies calls for a $5,000 monthly retainer for all services and runs through October, with an option to be extended through June 2015, according to county spokeswoman Mary Curtius.

“The purpose of the lobbying contract is to facilitate and bring to closure the Navy Annex Land Exchange project,” Curtius said. “This involves advocacy in both the legislative and executive branches to supplement the efforts of County staff.”

The land swap will benefit the county in several ways.

Google Map shows the former Navy Annex and the current alignment of Columbia PikeArlington will receive a sizable parcel of land south of Columbia Pike, on which the county hopes to build an Arlington County and Freedman’s Village history museum, additional parking and facilities for the Air Force Memorial, and other amenities that do not detract from “the dignity, honor, and solemnity of Arlington National Cemetery.”

Also, the exchange will facilitate a realignment of Columbia Pike and its intersection with S. Joyce Street. The realigned Pike will take a more direct path to S. Joyce Street, through the former Navy Annex parking lot, and will provide a better alignment for the future Columbia Pike streetcar.

In addition to an expansion of Arlington National Cemetery, the DoD plans to use some of the land in the swap, near the Pike/Joyce intersection for a future visitor center for the Pentagon Memorial. The Senate is expected to vote on the NDAA later this year.

More County Videos Explain ‘Why Streetcar’

by ARLnow.com | July 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm | 2,351 views | No Comments

Why Streetcar title screenThe county-run Arlington TV channel has released another series of videos explaining why the county is moving forward with its half-billion dollar streetcar system.

The videos are part of the county’s renewed effort to justify the massive streetcar investment to the public. The controversial project — which includes streetcar tracks in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike — is supported by County Board members Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, but opposed by members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt.

The four most recent videos include Tejada and housing advocate Holly Bray saying the streetcar will help preserve affordable housing on the Pike; planning commissioner Inta Malis saying the streetcar will reduce traffic congestion and benefit the environment; and real estate developer and former Arlington Chamber of Commerce Chair David DeCamp saying the streetcar will attract 6,600 new jobs and add $3-4 billion in new real estate value over 30 years.

Previous videos released by the county included the following titles: “Because more people will want to ride the streetcar;” “Because Metro was a success and streetcars will be, too;” “Because buses alone can’t carry enough people;” “Because streetcar improves connections;” and “Because it will broaden our tax base.”

The streetcar remains a source of controversy, with ardent advocates and detractors among local residents. The county plans to fund the streetcar system with federal, state and transportation-designated local funds, though Fisette recently asked county staff to come up with a way to pay for the streetcar without federal funding.

Fisette: Streetcar Has an Image Problem

by ARLnow.com | June 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm | 2,481 views | No Comments

Streetcars in Toronto held up by a car accident (photo by Rick Eglinton/GetStock)

(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette says the streetcar is a “strategic investment” that will drive economic development. But he acknowledges that it has an image problem.

Delivering his State of the County address to members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Fisette said “the workhorse modern streetcar” gets a bad rap from critics who say it would be waylaid frequently by vehicle accidents and other possible obstructions on the tracks.

Fisette pointed to an image that has popped up on blogs and in Powerpoint presentations given by critics. The image, above, shows the aftermath of a minor vehicle accident in Toronto that caused at least a half dozen streetcars to back up behind a damaged car on the tracks.

“It’s an image emblazoned in people’s minds that has distorted the debate a bit,” Fisette told the crowd.

In reality, Fisette said, such accidents will happen “very infrequently.” When it does, obstructions will be cleared from the tracks as expediently as possible. “There is a protocol in place for dealing with that quickly,” Fisette said.

Plus, Fisette argued, it’s not exactly uncommon for accidents to cause delays for vehicle traffic.

“Backups happen daily on the Beltway due to broken down cars and accidents,” he said.

(Those who oppose the streetcar also point out that streetcars themselves are sometimes involved in serious accidents with vehicles and pedestrians.)

Streetcar-like bus in Las Vegas (photo via Twitter)Critics, like Board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, say an enhanced bus system would offer many of the benefits of streetcar without the high cost and inflexibility of fixed rail. They have at times pointed to a “streetcar-like bus” in use in Las Vegas (pictured, right) as an alternative.

Fisette said fixed rail is, at least partially, the point. People — himself included — are more likely to ride a train with a fixed route than get on a bus.

“I fundamentally disagree” that buses are better than streetcar, Fisette said. “Streetcar is much more comfortable, much more accessible… multiple doors, better for wheelchairs, much smoother ride. I myself know that when I go to another city, do I jump on buses? No. Really, would I get on a rail system that’s fixed and tells you where you’re going? Yes.”

Fisette’s most oft-repeated argument for the streetcar was its higher ridership capacity. He said that prior to the Board’s streetcar approval, during a long planning process that asked Columbia Pike residents what they wanted, the community signaled that it did not want Metro and the density that would come with it, but did want more amenities.

In order to continue to revitalize Columbia Pike — and thus build more housing and retail — Fisette said there needs to be more capacity for transit than buses can provide. Already, the Pike is Virginia’s busiest bus corridor, with 600 bus trips daily carrying more than 17,000 passengers. With the Pike and Crystal City expected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth over the next 30 years, Fisette said the streetcar is the right system to get people to where they need to go.

Jay Fisette delivers his 2014 State of the County speech“No possible bus system can handle that ridership growth,” he said.

On the issue of how to pay for the streetcar – which carries a total price tag of more than half a billion dollars — Fisette said 93 percent of streetcar funding will come from “federal, state and regional money,” including a 12.5 cent commercial real estate tax designated for transit. He said he opposes using homeowner tax dollars for streetcar

At the same time, Fisette said he’s looking for a possible way to move forward without federal funds, since federal funding would come with strings attached, would increase costs and would slow the project down.

(more…)

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | June 5, 2014 at 9:15 am | 1,442 views | No Comments

Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial (Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen)

Police Locate Autistic Man With Lojack — The Arlington County Police Department’s Lojack-powered Project Lifesaver has helped locate another missing man. A 29-year-old autistic man who wandered away from his group home was located by police Wednesday morning, less than an hour after he was reported missing. [Arlington County]

APS Receives Award — Arlington Public Schools has received “the prestigious Medallion of Excellence Award presented by the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Awards for Virginia and the District of Columbia (SPQA).” APS is the ninth Virginia school division to be recognized since the award was established in 1983. [Arlington Public Schools]

W-L Advances to State Tourney — Washington-Lee High School’s boys soccer team defeated West Potomac 4-2 Tuesday night to advance to the 6A North Region title game and to the Virginia High School League state tournament. [InsideNova]

Library Digitizing Local Newspapers — Arlington Public Library is digitizing its microfilm archive of the Northern Virginia Sun newspaper, originally named the Arlington Sun. The new digital archives will be text searchable, “a boon for researchers, history buffs and anyone searching for specific moments in Arlington’s 20th century story.” The archives cover 1935 to 1978. [Arlington Public Library]

County Bureau Runs ‘Like a Startup’ – Arlington County Commuter Services, which is charged with getting more Arlington residents and workers to bike, walk or take transit rather than drive, “looks and operates more like a start-up tech company than a government agency.” [Mobility Lab]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

Survey Says: Bar Crawl Organizers Should Pay County Costs

by ARLnow.com | June 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 3,048 views | No Comments

Cinco De MEGA-Crawl sign in ClarendonArlington County asked for feedback on a potential new pub crawl policy — and it’s getting it in droves.

A month after a particularly rowdy St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl this year, the county announced in April that it’s exploring the idea of establishing new regulations for pub crawls, perhaps also providing a bigger police presence and making crawl organizers pay for the police and medical support.

Meanwhile, the county has created an online survey, asking those who live and work in Arlington for their thoughts on setting a time limit for bar crawls; a cap on the number of bar crawls per year, per month or per neighborhood; and who should pay for police, fire department and street cleaning services.

The one area where there is nearly universal agreement: bar crawl organizers, not the county, should pay for the added police, fire/EMS and street cleaning services.

There was also a free-response section for “other views and suggestions” on bar crawls. Opponents of the bar crawls — who seem to outnumber those who support such events in the survey’s “responses” section — didn’t hold back.

Excerpts of some of their responses:

  • “Bar crawl participants should be prohibited from entering residential areas adjacent to the commercial area where the bar crawl occurs, unless they (1) can demonstrate they live there, or (2) have parked there and pass a breathalyzer test.”
  • “Beer bottles in my yard; drunks found sleeping on neighbors’ porches… I think the hours of the crawl need to be limited… much, much too long.”
  • “‘Bar crawling’ needs to be sharply curtailed. The noise and public urination at these events lowers property values, resulting in lower tax revenues for the County. Even worse, the binge drinking that occurs at these events can prove fatal to the drinker.”
  • “I am shocked that our county board promotes public drunks and for MONEY no less… What kind of a reputation does that render?”
  • “Organizers should need to obtain a license/permit to hold such an event, and that should cost money. “
  • “We are not U St (I don’t want to live there), so an overabundance of large professional bar crawls would not be pleasant for those who have lived here for a while. I would be more in favor of an event where they shut down streets where the crawls are located, hopefully making it safer for both drivers and revelers.”
  • “I think these are totally inappropriate events. They encourage binge drinking, littering, public obscenity, assault, and other bad behavior. I have seen a group of 40-50 bar crawlers walking through my neighborhood (Lyon Park), directly in front of my yard in broad daylight. They were drinking from solo cups, swearing loudly and littering — and this was only on the way TO the event.”
  • “We already have bar crawl participants throwing up on lawns in the Clarendon area. It is unfair to expect people who live nearby to absorb this level of nuisance. Bar crawls also model bad behavior for Arlington teens.”
  • “My main concern with bar crawls isn’t the crawls themselves (although they have an annoying impact on parking availability), its the long-term impact they may have on the character of the business’ that move into the area. There’s been a trend over the last few years for restaurants to close down and be replaced by ‘sports bars’ and other establishments dedicated solely to getting smashed.”
  • “Residents with or without kids should not have to put up with the additional late night noise and other nonsense (fights, vomit, public urination, black outs requiring paramedics, petty property crimes) that can reasonably be expected to happen from time to time when dealing with groups of drunken pub crawlers.”
  • “The police and fire/EMS are busy enough on regular weekends and holidays without adding unnecessary insanity and work. Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think we don’t need bar crawls at all. They’re more of a headache than they’re worth.”

There were also comments generally supportive of bar crawls:

(more…)

Arlington, Fairfax Select Streetcar Project Manager

by ARLnow.com | June 2, 2014 at 1:35 pm | 2,315 views | No Comments

Columbia Pike streetcar renderingArlington and Fairfax counties announced Friday afternoon that Parsons Transportation Group has been jointly selected to manage the streetcar projects planned for Columbia Pike and Crystal City.

The contract with Parsons will be worth $7-8 million for an initial round of management work on the 7.4 mile streetcar system, according to Arlington County. That will come from a mix of state reimbursements and commercial real estate tax revenue that’s earmarked exclusively for transportation projects. The county will negotiate the cost of the contract for each subsequent year.

California-based Parsons has worked under contract for Arlington County before. The company helped to redesign the infamous million dollar bus stop, dropping the per-stop cost to around half a million dollars.

In a press release (below), Arlington officials called the selection of a program manager “a major step forward for the streetcar project.”

Arlington and Fairfax Counties announced today that they have selected Parsons Transportation Group to help manage Arlington’s streetcar program, which includes the Columbia Pike streetcar segment that the two counties are jointly building.

In the coming days, Arlington will sign a contract with Parsons to help manage both the Columbia Pike and Crystal City-Potomac Yard segments of Arlington’s planned 7.4-mile streetcar system. The program management team will provide critical, specialized expertise as the Counties enter the Preliminary Engineering phase of the project and moves toward selecting a design and engineering firm by the fall.

“This is a major step forward for the streetcar project,” said Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette. “Parsons has a wealth of experience in delivering transportation projects — including rail projects, around the world. In the coming months, one of their primary tasks for our program will be to provide an objective review of the project and assess options for cost reduction, including exploring potential public-private partnerships.”

Initial work includes $7 million to $8 million of services, and will be funded by state reimbursements and commercial real estate tax revenues that can only be spent for new transportation projects. There will be no homeowner-funded General Obligation bonds used to fund the contract. It is a deliverables-based contract subject to ongoing review. The contractor is paid only for actual time spent on approved work tasks. Fairfax and Arlington’s current cost-sharing agreement for the Columbia Pike portion of the program will be updated to reflect this new contract.

“Fairfax County supports the Columbia Pike Street Car project and appreciates this partnership with Arlington to enhance transit in the Baileys and Skyline area of Fairfax,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “This area was once meant to be served by the Metro system and the streetcar will deliver on this vision of transit-oriented development. The Columbia Pike Streetcar is an enormous revitalization and economic development opportunity for this area of the County.”

Parsons, selected through a competitive negotiation process, brings a broad range of program management, engineering and financial expertise to the streetcar program, the County’s most ambitious transportation project since Metro. Parsons and its sub-contractors have worked on streetcar and light rail projects in Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; St. Louis, Missouri; Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas and Norfolk, Virginia.

“This high-capacity modern streetcar program for the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors, is critical for sustaining growth and building communities in both Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Parsons is honored to be selected, and our experienced project management team stands ready,” said Todd Wager, President of Parsons Transportation Group, Inc.

Arlington began its selection process for the Program Management consultant at the end of September 2013, when it issued a request for proposals. Multiple proposals were evaluated on the proposed approach to the project, level of experience, qualifications and other factors identified in the RFP. Fairfax participated in the selection panel and in negotiating the first year work program. The range of $7 million to $8 million for the initial work effort reflects that the contract includes a specific work plan with several optional tasks that will be authorized as needed. The County will negotiate a work plan each year to reflect the work that is needed during the upcoming year.

Arlington Again Gets Highest Bond Rating

by ARLnow.com | May 23, 2014 at 10:00 am | 902 views | No Comments

Arlington, Virginia logoFor the 14th straight year, Arlington County has received a perfect Aaa/AAA/AAA debt rating from the major credit rating agencies.

Arlington is one of only 39 U.S. counties to receive the highest possible rating. The rating will enable Arlington County to borrow money at a lower rate than other, less creditworthy jurisdictions.

From an Arlington County press release:

“As the County continues to fund critical general government and school capital needs, this reaffirmation of our triple – AAA rating, is an important validation, which allows us to enjoy lower interest rates for our General Obligation bonds and use every dollar as efficiently as possible,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan.

Moody’s noted that the County’s “continued careful financial management and commitment to maintaining sound financial flexibility are expected to maintain Arlington’s strong fiscal operations.”

Fitch noted that the County’s “debt levels are moderate and expected to remain so given prudent planning and adherence to conservative debt policies.” They also noted that “conservative budgeting, timely tax increases, and closely monitored expenditure controls consistently produce surplus operating results leading to solid reserve levels and liquidity.”

Standard and Poor’s noted the County’s “Very strong debt and contingent liability, driven by low carrying charges, low net debt, and rapid amortization.”

Having a Aaa/AAA/AAA rating ensures that the County will enjoy lower interest rates for its upcoming sale of the Series 2014 General Obligation Public Improvement and Refunding Bonds the week of May 26.

Pike ‘Super Stops’ Redesigned, Cost Nearly Cut in Half

by Ethan Rothstein | May 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 4,957 views | No Comments

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) The county’s plan for “Super Stop” bus stops on Columbia Pike, which led to the much-maligned $1 million Super Stop at the corner of the Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive, has been scrapped in favor of a more affordable design.

The county announced this afternoon that the new plan calls for building the 23 additional transit centers along the Pike for about 40 percent less than the previous budget, dropping the total price from $20.9 million to $12.4 million. The cost of individual stations will be between $362,000 and $672,000.

The freshly-redesigned stops — which were designed by the county and a consultant — will feature six covered, concrete seats, as opposed to the Super Stop’s steel seats. The canopies, which on the Super Stop did little to keep out the elements, will be lowered in height from 13 feet to 10 feet and the angle reduced from 10 degrees to 1.5 degrees. The total canopy coverage will also increase from 243 to 295 square feet on standard transit centers. In addition, side windscreens will be added to enhance weather protection.

“Our goal was accountability, to pinpoint what went wrong in the project management on the Super Stop design, to account for how the money was spent and, going forward, to ensure the transit stations will be built effectively,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said at a press conference held at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike. “Our new design firm has produced… a transit station with a price tag far below the Walter Reed prototype.”

The new stops, which the county is rebranding from “Super Stops” to “transit centers,” have a modular design, meaning each is built with standardized parts that can be added on to in order to create larger stations, as needed. A “single-size” station will cost $362,000, a “standard” transit center will cost $469,000, and an “extended” transit center — planned for the north side of the Pike at S. Glebe Road, for example — will cost about $672,000.

The county will soon issue a request for proposals, after which it will undergo a design phase, with hopes to start work on the first eight stops by FY 2017. The county will directly oversee construction, whereas WMATA was the construction lead on the original Super Stop — something Arlington officials blamed in part for project delays and high costs.

Donnellan said the review of why the Super Stop was so expensive and took too long to build isn’t finalized yet, but hopes to announce its findings within two months.

“I am disappointed the review is not done yet,” she said. “We are working really collaboratively with Metro to finalize the information. It’s sort of like a reconstruction of the information that’s been compiled over the last 10 years.”

The first eight stops to be built are expected to be on either sides of the Pike at S. Glebe Road, S. Oakland Street, S. Barton Street and S. Buchanan Street. As for the Walter Reed Super Stop, it won’t be torn down, said Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice. Instead the county will “examine what can be done to improve its performance and weather protection.”

The county surveyed 732 individuals, 515 of whom were users of the Walter Reed stop, and used their input — largely complaints about the lack of weather protection — to design the new transit centers. The survey respondents all liked, however, the real-time information display and the “overall aesthetic” of the stop. Both elements have been incorporated into the new stops.

The county’s press release on the topic, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | April 29, 2014 at 8:45 am | 1,482 views | No Comments

Rain clouds coming (Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen)

New County Website Now Live — The newly-redesigned Arlington County website is now live. The site is designed to be “more resident-focused, as opposed to county hierarchy-focused.” [Arlington County]

Congressional Candidates Weigh in on Streetcar — Several Democratic candidates for Congress are weighing in with their thoughts on the Columbia Pike streetcar project. Among those weighing in, candidate Don Beyer supports the project while Bruce Shuttleworth supports it “with reservations” and Mark Levine supports a voter referendum on the issue. [Blue Virginia]

Pot Advocates Endorse Ebbin — NORML PAC, a political action committee that supports the legalization of marijuana, has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin in the race for Congress. “NORML PAC believes strongly that Senator Ebbin has the tenacity, coalition building skills, and political acumen required to help end our country’s destructive war on marijuana consumers,” the group said in a statement. [NORML]

Juicy Couture Closing in Pentagon City — The Juicy Couture store in Pentagon City mall is reportedly closing by late June as part of a larger corporate consolidation. [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

Residents Want Open Space, Outdoor Movies in Courthouse Square

by Ethan Rothstein | April 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,730 views | No Comments

Courthouse Square map(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Arlington County surveyed more than 250 residents, workers and visitors to Courthouse Square to assess public opinion of the area’s future.

The survey was conducted as part of the county’s “Envision Courthouse Square” initiative, which is trying to get the public involved in the process of planning the future development of the 9-acre area surrounding the county’s large surface parking lot.

That lot in particular was the subject of many survey respondent’s suggestions, who desire to see it become an underground parking lot with a different use for the surface area up top.

“I live in the neighborhood, so for me the parking is a waste,” one respondent said. “However I recognize the need for parking near the courthouse and government buildings to serve other residents of Arlington. I would think that an underground parking structure with a public space on top would be the best way to balance these needs.”

“Please underground the parking,” another said. “The surface parking detracts from the neighborhood’s streetscape. We should create a walkable environment that encourages visitors to utilize Arlington’s multimodal options.”

Courthouse Square use preference surveyMore than 13 percent of respondents listed “market events” as their preferred future use of open space in Courthouse Square, followed by 12.2 percent in favor of outdoor movies and evening events. Social gathering and social seating received 11.7 and 9.8 percent of the vote, respectively.

When asked if public events, celebrations and demonstrations should be encouraged in Courthouse Square, 73.1 percent of those asked answered, “yes,” but some said they worried the events would benefit only those from other areas.

“Courthouse Square should be a place for those who live there or nearby to enjoy the open space,” one response said, “not an area for out of towners or others to use to hold political events.”

Of the “yes” answers, many cited Courthouse’s civic identity as a reason to encourage First Amendment expression in the open spaces.

“It should be celebrated as THE civic space in Arlington,” one answer said. Another respondent said only, “Because America, that’s why.”

A majority, 53 percent of respondents said Courthouse Square should be a “beacon” for all of Arlington, while 29 percent said it should be mostly designed for the surrounding neighborhood. Only 17 percent said it should be designed for use by the entire D.C. metro area or region.

“Courthouse does not currently have much of neighborhood feel,” said one of the “neighborhood” respondents. “It is nice to feel some smaller community in a large city. New York City neighborhoods have this and it makes them unique. It also draws people from other places to experience their unique aspects.”

“We all have plenty of regional attractions,” said a respondent who thought Courthouse should be designed for all of Arlington. “[We] need to develop sense of place — Arlington specific, beyond just being across river from D.C.”

Said another: “Arlington needs a town center. An identity. A place people can say ‘I’ll meet you on the town square.’ Arlington lacks that now — and I think that harms our identity and cohesiveness.”

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | April 21, 2014 at 9:10 am | 2,103 views | No Comments

Sunset over the Memorial Bridge (Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber)

Vihstadt Backs Off Independent Auditor Push — Newly-elected County Board member John Vihstadt is backing off a campaign promise to push for an independent auditor for Arlington County. Vihstadt “learned of the internal auditing that the county does and its plans to make that role more robust.” He plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the county’s auditing project around mid-year. [Washington Post]

Howze Won Pike Precincts — Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze, who lost to John Vihstadt in the April 8 special election, narrowly won the precincts around Columbia Pike. Opponents of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar say the slim victory — Howze supports the streetcar while Vihstadt does not — is proof that even Columbia Pike residents who stand to benefit from the streetcar are lukewarm on the project. [InsideNoVa]

A Weekend in Courthouse in 2.5 Minutes — Timelapse photography of Arlington’s Courthouse Square area shows 2.5 days in just 2.5 minutes. The video includes a view of the Courthouse farmers market from setup to break down. [YouTube]

Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber

Arlington Expanding Fiber Network to Businesses

by Ethan Rothstein | April 2, 2014 at 10:00 am | 1,363 views | No Comments

Fiber optic lines installed throughout ArlingtonArlington County has announced that it is expanding ConnectArlington, its high-speed fiber optic program that connects county government and school buildings, and making it available to Arlington businesses.

The county’s unused fiber optic capacity, or “dark fiber,” will provide not only significantly faster data speeds for businesses — the county says the speed is “unprecedented” — but also a more secure connection that can be used between contractors and federal agencies like the Pentagon.

Officials expect the program to provide an economic boost to the county.

“Arlington will be the only place for businesses to receive this level of service and security and will be the only place offering such dedicated lines to the nation’s top defense and research organizations,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a press release. “The opportunities ConnectArlington gives Arlington businesses are endless; we anticipate this game-changing infrastructure will attract jobs and innovative investments to our community.”

When ConnectArlington was installed for county businesses and services in 2012, the county said it will improve traffic management, public transportation and 911 response time.

Companies will be able to lease the dark fiber over the next year as Arlington works with a third-party consultant to make “the service easily available,” according to the press release. The full rollout is expected to be complete by early 2015.

Being able to use the county’s existing fiber capacity will provide businesses with connectivity that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive and/or logistically complicated to get on their own.

The full press release, after the jump. (more…)

County Asks Residents to ‘Envision Courthouse Square’

by Ethan Rothstein | March 19, 2014 at 10:30 am | 2,796 views | No Comments

Courthouse Square mapArlington is asking residents and interested parties to participate in a 10-month community planning process to shape the future of the county’s civic center in the Courthouse neighborhood.

The first community planning workshop for “Envision Courthouse Square” will be held at Key Elementary School (2300 Key Blvd) in the cafeteria on Wednesday, March 26.

The county has dubbed a 9-acre area around the county’s large surface parking lot “Courthouse Square.” A mix of county- and privately-owned land and buildings, Courthouse Square could potentially be transformed into a mix of new developments, roads and open space.

“We are looking to the community to help us plan an extraordinary civic center that will not only house County government, but will provide a great public space to serve Arlingtonians for generations,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a press release.

The effort, the county says, will be the most comprehensive look at the future of Courthouse since the 1993 Courthouse Sector Plan Addendum. The Courthouse Square Planning and Urban Design Study Working Group, formed by County Board action in October 2013, will take the public’s suggestion and formulate it into a plan moving forward.

The five areas the working group, and the community, will evaluate are open space, building location and design, circulation (moving cars, pedestrians and bicycles through the area), community resources and sustainability.

The working group, made up of residents, business owners and community leaders and chaired by Planning Commissioner Nancy Iacomini, is expected to have recommendations for the County Board by the end of 2014.

County to Review Big Assessment Increases

by ARLnow.com | March 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,670 views | No Comments

Restaurants on Wilson Blvd in ClarendonArlington County will review the big jump in commercial real estate assessments in Clarendon first reported by ARLnow.com last week.

The county said Friday evening that it will take a look at “all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013.”

There are nearly 90 such properties, including Rien Tong restaurant (3131 Wilson Blvd), which saw its assessment increase 197 percent, and Spider Kelly’s (3171 Wilson Blvd), which saw its property valuation increase 83 percent.

The assessments are updated annually and used to calculate county property taxes.

“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said county finance director Michelle Cowan, in a press release, below.

Arlington County has begun a review of all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013, including several parcels in the Clarendon area that saw significant increases.

The review will affect fewer than 90 properties, of approximately 3,300 total commercial parcels.  Both the original assessments, and the underlying data for each of the affected properties, will be re-examined to determine whether the assessment should be sustained or changed.

“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said Dept. of Management and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. “We want to ensure fair and equitable assessments for all property owners.”

Arlington’s Real Estate Assessment office is mailing letters to property owners of all properties whose assessments increased 50% or more. Upon conclusion of the administrative review by the County, property owners will still have the ability to appeal their assessment through the Board of Equalization. It is anticipated that the County’s administrative review will take 30-45 days. 

Overall, commercial assessments, which include office buildings, apartments, hotels and retail, grew 5.4 percent over CY 2013, primarily fueled by new construction and strength in apartment properties due to rising rents. The specific parcels that were questioned in the Clarendon area fall into the general commercial category class, which includes retail and other types of properties, excluding office buildings and apartments. The general commercial assessment category increased by 12.4 percent over CY 2013.

Assessments for most commercial properties are based on an income approach and evaluate how much income a property would produce if it were rented as an apartment, store, factory, etc. This approach considers operating expenses, taxes, insurance, maintenance costs, and the profits most people would expect from the rental. The net income after operational costs, plus a capitalization rate, determines the assessment value. It is not based on the profitability of a particular business; rather the assessment value is based on the rents and expenses of the property and building in which the business is located.

Arlington Schools, Gov’t Closed Monday

by ARLnow.com | March 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm | 1,530 views | No Comments

Snowy scene along Columbia Pike 1/26/11(Updated at 9:40 p.m.) All Arlington schools, courts and government offices will be closed Monday, the county announced Sunday night.

It’s at least the fifth time Arlington Public Schools have closed due to snow this school year.

“Essential personnel are to report to work as scheduled,” said APS spokeswoman Jennifer Harris. “Extracurricular activities, interscholastic contests, team practices, field trips, adult and community education classes, and programs in schools and on school grounds are canceled.”

All ART bus service has been suspended, in advance of a winter storm expected to drop 6-10 inches of snow Monday. Arlington’s western neighbor, the City of Falls Church, has declared a snow emergency now.

The Virginia Department of Transportation, meanwhile, is encouraging residents to leave their cars at home on Monday.

“By midnight tonight, 4,000 trucks will be staged along interstates, major roads and neighborhood streets in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties,” VDOT said in a press release Sunday night. “Drivers should stay off the roads tomorrow… snow and frigid temperatures to northern Virginia.”

Staying off the roads should be easier for non-emergency federal workers — the Office of Personnel Management announced tonight that federal offices would be closed Monday.

Residents have been reporting a shortage of salt and other snow clearing supplies in local grocery and hardware stores.

“Gonna have a slick sidewalk [tomorrow],” said Twitter user @TheRhino26.

File photo

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